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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 10/10/14

The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

Jeremy Renner, portraying journalist Gary Webb, in a scene from the motion picture “Kill the Messenger.”
Jeremy Renner, portraying journalist Gary Webb, in a scene from the motion picture “Kill the Messenger.”
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The movie, "Kill the Messenger," is forcing the mainstream U.S. media to confront one of its most shameful episodes, the suppression of a major national security scandal implicating Ronald Reagan's CIA in aiding and abetting cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s and then the systematic destruction of journalist Gary Webb when he revived the scandal in the 1990s.

Hollywood's treatment of this sordid affair will likely draw another defensive or dismissive response from some of the big news outlets that still don't want to face up to their disgraceful behavior. The New York Times and other major newspapers mocked the Contra-cocaine scandal when Brian Barger and I first exposed it in 1985 for the Associated Press and then savaged Webb in 1996 when he traced some of the Contra-cocaine into the manufacture of crack which ravaged American cities.

So, when you're watching this movie or responding to questions from friends about whether they should believe its storyline, you might want to know what is or is not fact. What is remarkable about this tale is that so much of it now has been established by official government documents. In other words, you don't have to believe me and my dozens of sources; you can turn to the admissions by the Central Intelligence Agency's inspector general or to evidence in the National Archives.

For instance, last year at the National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland, I discovered a "secret" U.S. law enforcement report that detailed how top Contra leader Adolfo Calero was casually associating with Norwin Meneses, described as "a well-reputed drug dealer."

Meneses was near the center of Webb's 1996 articles for the San Jose Mercury-News, a series that came under fierce attack from U.S. government officials as well as major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The controversy cost Webb his career, left him nearly penniless and ultimately drove him to his suicide on Dec. 9, 2004.

But the bitter irony of Webb's demise, which is the subject of "Kill the Messenger" starring Jeremy Renner as Webb, is that Webb's much-maligned "Dark Alliance" series eventually forced major admissions from the CIA, the Justice Department and other government agencies revealing an even-deeper relationship between President Reagan's beloved Contras and drug cartels than Webb (or Barger and I) ever alleged.

Typical of the evidence that the Reagan administration chose to ignore was the document that I found at the National Archives, recounting information from Dennis Ainsworth, a blue-blood Republican from San Francisco who volunteered to help the Contra cause in 1984-85. That put him in position to witness the strange behind-the-scenes activities of Contra leaders hobnobbing with drug traffickers and negotiating arms deals with White House emissaries.

Ainsworth also was a source of mine in fall 1985 when I was investigating the mysterious sources of funding for the Contras after Congress shut off CIA support in 1984 amid widespread reports of Contra atrocities inflicted on Nicaraguan civilians, including rapes, executions and torture.

Ainsworth's first-hand knowledge of the Contra dealings dovetailed with information that I already had, such as the central role of National Security Council aide Oliver North in aiding the Contras and his use of "courier" Rob Owen as an off-the-books White House intermediary to the Contras. I later developed confirmation of some other details that Ainsworth described, such as his overhearing Owen and Calero working together on an arms deal as Ainsworth drove them through the streets of San Francisco.

As for Ainsworth's knowledge about the Contra-cocaine connection, he said he sponsored a June 1984 cocktail party at which Calero spoke to about 60 people. Meneses, a notorious drug kingpin in the Nicaraguan community, showed up uninvited and clearly had a personal relationship with Calero, who was then the political leader of the Contra's chief fighting force, the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force (or FDN).

"At the end of the cocktail party, Meneses and Calero went off together," Ainsworth told U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello, according to a "secret" Jan. 6, 1987 cable submitted by Russoniello to an FBI investigation code-named "Front Door," a probe into the Reagan administration's corruption.

After Calero's speech, Ainsworth said Meneses accompanied Calero and about 20 people to dinner and picked up the entire tab, according to a more detailed debriefing of Ainsworth by the FBI. Concerned about this relationship, Ainsworth said he was told by Renato Pena, an FDN leader in the San Francisco area, that "the FDN is involved in drug smuggling with the aid of Norwin Meneses who also buys arms for Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN." Bermudez was then the top Contra military commander.

Corroborating Account

Pena, who himself was convicted on federal drug charges in 1984, gave a similar account to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to a 1998 report by the Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Bromwich...

"When debriefed by the DEA in the early 1980s, Pena said that the CIA was allowing the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. ...

"Pena stated that he was present on many occasions when Meneses telephoned Bermudez in Honduras. Meneses told Pena of Bermudez's requests for such things as gun silencers (which Pena said Meneses obtained in Los Angeles), cross bows, and other military equipment for the Contras. Pena believed that Meneses would sometimes transport certain of these items himself to Central America, and other times would have contacts in Los Angeles and Miami send cargo to Honduras, where the authorities were cooperating with the Contras. Pena believed Meneses had contact with Bermudez from about 1981 or 1982 through the mid-1980s."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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